Pope tells WYD youth: the Cross of Jesus is the real tree of life

On Palm Sunday, marking the beginning of the striking Holy Week rites, Benedict XVI entrusted the youth of Sydney with the Holy Year Cross, urging them to build the Kingdom of Christ, "of love and peace" different to those offered by the world.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – At least 80,000 youth, from Rome and around the world, took part in the celebration of the XXI World Youth Day (WYD) in St Peter's Square, together with Benedict XVI, on the same day as the Church marks Palm Sunday and the Lord's Passion at the start of the Holy Week rites.

That the WYD should coincide with Palm Sunday was planned by John Paul II 20 years ago. Over the years, celebrations in Rome and different dioceses alternated with world meetings, the last of which was held in Cologne last August.

A delegation of youth from Sydney (Australia) – the XXIII WYD in 2008 will be held there – attended today's celebration. At the end of the Mass, a group of youth from Cologne passed the Holy Year Cross and the Icon of the Blessed Virgin, "Salus Populi Romani", to the Sydney delegation. For years, the Cross – and later the Icon too – has accompanied the pilgrimage of youth of the WYD around the world. The pope, in his homily, explained the symbol of the Cross and the pilgrimage, "from Cologne to Sydney – a journey through continents and cultures, a journey through a world torn and tormented by violence! Symbolically, it is like the journey from sea to sea, from the river to the ends of the earth. It is the journey of He who, in the sign of the Cross, gives us peace and makes us bearers of his peace."

The Cross, a sign of contradiction and of life, was at the heart of the pope's homily, given after the dramatic account of the Passion by the evangelist Mark. Benedict XVI said: "There was a time, and it is still not entirely over, when Christianity was rejected precisely because of the Cross. The Cross talked about sacrifice, it was said, the Cross is a sign of denial of life. We, on the other hand, want life without restrictions and without renunciation. We want to live, nothing more than to live. Don't let's be limited by precepts and bans: we want richness and fullness – this is what was said and is still being said. All this sounds convincing and seductive, it is the language of the serpent, who tells us: 'Don't let yourselves be afraid! Eat serenely from all the trees in the garden!' Palm Sunday, however, tells us that the truly great 'Yes' is precisely the Cross, that the Cross is the true tree of life. We are not alive to become masters of life, but to give it. Love is a giving of self, and this is why it is the way of true life, symbolized by the Cross."

The Cross is "the road", the "way" along which Jesus wants to lead us, a royal way at odds with the mentality of the world. Meditating on the episode of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, astride a donkey, Benedict XVI said: "Jesus entered the Holy City riding a donkey, that is, the animal of simple peasants, and what's more, a donkey that did not belong to him, but one He borrowed for the occasion. He does not turn up in an opulent, royal carriage, or astride a horse, like the world's great men, but on a borrowed donkey."

Thus, in him is fulfilled the promise made by the prophets of Israel, the "king of the poor", the king of peace", the king "of universality". Even these terms contradict the prevailing overstated mentality.

The poverty of Jesus is that of the anawim, of the humble, not mere economic poverty. "One could be materially poor, but could have a heart full of yearning for richness and for the power it brings. Precisely the fact of living in envy and covetousness reveals that such a man, in his heart, is one of the rich. He wants to turn the distribution of wealth upside down, but only to step himself into the position of those formerly wealthy. Poverty in the sense of Jesus – in the sense of the prophets – presupposes, first and foremost, inner freedom from the avidity to possess and from a thirst for power. It is about a far greater reality than simple redistribution of wealth, which would anyhow be restricted to the material sphere, resulting in ever harder hearts. Above all, it is about purification of the heart, thanks to which possession is recognized as a responsibility, as an obligation towards others, to be submitted before God's sight; it is about allowing oneself to be led by Christ, who, being rich, made himself poor for us (cfr 2 Cor 8:9). Inner freedom is a prerequisite to overcome the corruption and avidity that have devastated the world; this freedom can be found only if God becomes our richness; it can be found only in the patience of daily renunciation, in which it develops as true freedom."

The king "of peace", who will drive away the war chariots and horses, and cut off the battle-bow (cfr Zechariah 9:9-10), "is concretized in the figure of Jesus through the sign of the Cross". He is the broken battle-bow, he is, somehow, the new, true rainbow of God, who joins heaven and earth and throws across a bridge over the abyss between the continents. The new weapon, that Jesus gives us in our hands, is the Cross – sign of reconciliation, sign of love stronger than death. Each time we make the sign of the cross, we must remind ourselves not to oppose injustice with further injustice, violence with more violence; to remind ourselves that we can triumph over evil only with good, and never by repaying evil with evil."

And finally, the kingdom "of universality" announces that the Kingdom of Christ stretches from "sea to sea, right until the ends of the earth". The pope said: "The space of the messianic king is no longer a specific country that would separate from the rest and inevitably take up a position against them. His territory is the earth, the whole world. Overcoming all delineations, He creates unity in the multiplicity of cultures. Penetrating the clouds of history with a glance, we can see, emerging from far away in the prophecies, a network of Eucharistic communities embracing the whole world – a network of communities making up the "Kingdom of peace" of Jesus, from sea to sea until the ends of the earth. In all cultures and in all parts of the world, in miserable huts and poor rural areas, as well as in the splendour of cathedrals, He comes. Everywhere He is the same, the Only One, and thus all worshippers gathered together in communion with Him, are also united among themselves in one body. Christ dominates, making Himself our bread and giving himself to us. It is in this way that he builds his Kingdom."

On Palm Sunday, continued Benedict XVI, the people shouted: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord". "This cry of hope of Israel, this acclamation to Christ during his entry to Jerusalem, has become, with good reason, the Church's acclamation to He who, in the Eucharist, comes to us in a new way. We hail He who, in flesh and blood, brought God's glory on earth. We hail He who came and who however still remains He who must come. We hail He who always comes among us once again in the Eucharist in the name of the Lord, thus joining together the ends of the earth in God's peace. This experience of universality is part of the Eucharist. Because the Lord comes, we emerge from our exclusive particularities and enter in the great community of all those celebrating this great sacrament. We enter into his kingdom of peace and somehow hail in Him all our brothers and sisters as well, to whom He comes, to truly become a kingdom of peace amid this lacerated world."

At the end of the homily, the pope thanked the youth "who will now bear the Cross through the streets of the world, this Cross in which we can practically touch the mystery of Jesus. Let us pray to him so that, at the same time, He will touch us and open our hearts, so that following his Cross, we may become messengers of his love and his peace."

At the end of the mass, the pope greeted youth in different languages, recalling that the "passing of the Cross, after each world meeting, has become a 'tradition', in the sense of a traditio, a highly symbolic delivery, to be lived with great faith, with a commitment to undertake a journey of conversion in the footsteps of Jesus." A group of youth from Cologne delivered the Cross and the Icon of the Virgin into the hands of the group from Sydney, while Cardinal Meissner, archbishop of Cologne, embraced Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of the Australian city. At one point, a youth cried out: "Viva il papa!" (Long live the pope!) The pope quickly replied: "Let us now hail Our Lady, with the prayer of the Angelus". Benedict XVI told youth they would meet in 2008 in Sydney, "God willing".